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City Focus: Doing business in Kuala Lumpur

Name:        Robert Williams
Lives in:     Singapore
Job:            British Airways’ head of Asia Pacific sales

business in Kuala Lumpur
Robert Williams, British Airways’ head of Asia Pacific sales

How often do you travel to Kuala Lumpur, and who do you fly with?
I travel to Kuala Lumpur regularly for both work and leisure. British Airways launched daily flights between KL and London in May last year, so I spend a lot of time working from our new office in KL.

When I travel from London to KL, I always fly with British Airways because it’s a non-stop flight and the route is being served by the Boeing 777 which features the latest cabins, including fully flat beds in First and Club World business class. This means when I land in KL, I arrive fully rested and ready to meet up with clients for dinner meetings.

What’s more, from early December 2015, we introduced the new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner to the route. It’s the most technological advanced aircraft in our fleet. The new aircraft is also fitted with the latest whisper-quiet First cabin, pressurised 2,000 feet lower than other aircraft (6,000 feet). This creates more humidity and reduces the drying effect of the air in the cabin, enabling customers to arrive feeling more refreshed and less jetlagged.

If I’m travelling from Singapore, which is where I’m based in Asia, I use a variety of options. My preference is to drive up as it’s a great road and you get to experience some fantastic scenery while also being able to work on the go.

What’s one thing everyone ought to know about the place?
KL sits in the Klang Valley which means that the views from the top of the city skyscrapers stretch out to the mountains. You can get some great pictures of both the city and the mountains. I’ve also heard that Malaysia has more public holidays than any other country!

How quickly can you get a visa? Online, embassy or visa on arrival?
Malaysia is visa-friendly country. UK and Singaporean passport holders don’t need to apply for a visa.

business in kuala lumpur
Jump on the metro system for quick and easy travel around KL

Fastest way into and around the city?
The KLIA Express train is the best option for travelling into the city from the airport – it runs every few minutes and takes just half an hour to get to Sentral Station. Around the city, taxis (depending on the traffic) are a good option but my advice is to take the blue executive ones. The red ones very often cover the meter up and want to haggle for an over-priced fare. When you get to know the city layout better, use the LRT metro system for quick and easy access to the main spots.

When are the good and bad times to visit?
I’ve never been at a bad time! Visiting during Eid is very interesting as all of the big hotels host fabulous Iftar dinners after sunset. Similarly, Merdeka (Independence Day) on 31 August is also fun with a good party atmosphere and fireworks. Like I mentioned earlier, there are a lot of public holidays in Malaysia so check before you go to see which one you will be there for.

Which hotels do you recommend?
All of the big hotel chains are located in KL and the standard is high. For a very convenient hotel, located between the city centre and the airport, try Aloft at Sentral Station. It has a really contemporary feel and good prices. I also like the new Hilton Doubletree in the KLCC area. It has a great pool and is very close to the LRT station.

What’s the dress code for meetings?
International standard – shirt and tie. Given the heat, you don’t see as many jackets being worn.

Any cultural or business etiquette to be aware of?
Remember that Malaysia is a Muslim country and appropriate etiquette around the dress code should be observed. Also take into account that during Ramadan, colleagues and people you’re meeting for business may be fasting.

If you’re taking a client to lunch or dinner, where do you go?
I love Bijan in Bukit Bintang. It serves really delicious Malaysian food with a great bar and a modern feel. Try and get a table in the outside courtyard.

Casual bars to go for a drink with clients where you won’t get hassled?
Opium in Changkat Bukit Bintang is great. It has the best cocktail menu and a fantastic selection of Asian-Fusion snacks to choose from.

business in Kuala Lumpur
Not to be missed at night, the Petronas Towers

If you’ve got some spare time, what’s the must-see?
The gleaming Petronas Towers are definitely a must-see and I hear that the Batu Caves are fantastic but I haven’t found the time to go yet! If you have more time, travel up to the Cameron Highlands to visit the tea plantations and enjoy the cool atmosphere and stunning views. I would also recommend adding on some time to your trip to fly up to Kota Bharu and take a speedboat out to the Perhentian Islands. They’re unspoiled, simple and very charming.

Any unsafe areas to avoid?
I haven’t faced any problems when travelling in KL and overall it is a safe city for all. As with visiting any large cities though, do keep alert and avoid travelling around areas you don’t know so well at night.

Gifts to take home for family and friends?
KL is a shopping paradise with large malls and long opening hours. All of the international names are there, but for something local, choose some batik print either in a scarf or a picture or of course a traditional shirt.

business in Kuala Lumpur
Food on the go – satay

Best local street food or dish?
It’s all about the satay… and every shop considers their satay to be the best!

At the end of a trip, how long do you really need to get to the airport and get checked in?
If you’re flying out later in the evening then a taxi can get you to KLIA in an hour or, of course, you can get a taxi to Sentral and then the express train. If you’re leaving during rush hour though, leave ample time… traffic in KL can be very heavy.

Tell us a personal anecdote from one of your trips to this city that will give readers a feel for staying there or doing business there.
The very first time I went to KL, I was 21 and backpacking through Southeast Asia. We flew there from the north of the country and just happened to arrive during Merdeka celebrations. I had no idea that this holiday was happening but to be greeted by fireworks felt very special indeed!

Heading outside Asia for business? Check out our Dubai guide.